NSO to focus on new music in Kennedy Center’s 2020-21 season

Tue Feb 11, 2020 at 12:27 pm
Esa-Pekka Salonen will lead two weeks of National Symphony Orchestra concerts next season to launch the new Prism artist residency series. Photo: Katja Tähjä

The Kennedy Center released the line-up for its 2020-2021 season to the public on Monday. First and foremost, it marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the National Symphony Orchestra. The ensemble has planned some memorable music and exciting new programs for its fourth season under the leadership of music director Gianandrea Noseda.

The NSO will launch a new annual artist residency called Prism, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, incoming music director of the San Francisco Symphony, will be the first invited artist. He will lead two subscription concerts in the fall, featuring his own Karawane (November 12 and 14) and the world premiere of his new work FOG (November 20 and 21). The latter is paired with a staged performance of Stravinsky’s Perséphone, directed by none other than Peter Sellars.

The residency will also feature a range of other events, including new music reading sessions, chamber performances, and the U.S. premiere of Salonen’s immersive installation piece, Laila. The new residency program coincides with the end of the Kennedy Center composer-in-residence position, held by Mason Bates for five years and concluding at the end of this season.

More new music comes to the NSO in a season-long series of concerts devoted to living composers, honoring the orchestra’s 90th anniversary. These concerts will feature world premieres of new pieces by Peter Boyer, Michael Daugherty, Jessie Montgomery, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, and the D.C. premiere of a co-commissioned piece by Julia Wolfe. The theme–“Pivotal Moments, Powerful Voices”–aims to showcase the social and historical relevance of music.

After the performance of all nine Beethoven symphonies at the end of this season, next season gets yet more Beethoven tributes, including a performance of the mammoth Missa Solemnis (October 8 to 10). Noseda also introduces a number of novelties into the NSO repertory, including Alfredo Casella’s Third Symphony (March 11 and 12), Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater (May 20 and 21), and Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex with the marvelous Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Jocasta (June 3 to 6).

Guest conductor John Storgårds leads an intriguing program centered on Ligeti’s Violin Concerto, with the redoubtable Leila Josefowicz as soloist (April 8 and 10). Mark Elder returns with a welcome performance of Elgar’s Second Symphony, along with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor in a Mozart concerto (April 15 to 17).

No international tours are announced, but the NSO and Noseda will return to Carnegie Hall in March 2021. That program (March 11 to 13) highlights music by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Casella, all composers who wrote during times of tyranny. Noseda further spotlights more of his Russian training with an abundance of Russian music, including the pairing of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with the debut of pianist Anna Vinnitskaya, and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony (November 5 to 7). Leonidas Kavakos plays Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, alongside Borodin’s Second Symphony (February 11 to 14).

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Continuing the trend of recent seasons, Washington National Opera remains rather conservative in its mainstage selections. Robert Spano will conduct the season opener of Beethoven’s Fidelio from October 24 to November 9, the company’s nod toward the Beethoven Year being celebrated everywhere.

Celebrated baritone Christopher Maltman will take on the title role of Verdi’s Rigoletto for the first time in his career, from February 21 to March 20. Soprano Renée Fleming, one of the Kennedy Center’s high-profile artistic advisers, will make her opera directorial debut with Mozart’s Così fan tutte, from February 27 to March 19. Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci makes her WNO debut, singing the role of Despina for the first time. The season ends on an extremely familiar note with Puccini’s La Bohème, from May 15 to 29.

Season highlights include WNO’s first production of Nixon in China, the 20th-century masterpiece of John Adams, from October 31 to November 14. Renowned conductor David Robertson will conduct a staging directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer, a co-production with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where it premiered in 2017.

The other relative rarity is the company’s first staging of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov in more than twenty years, from February 20 to March 17. Francesca Zambello directs a cast featuring Evgeny Nikitin, Kwangchul Youn, Štefan Margita, and Elizabeth Bishop.

The American Opera Initiative continues its annual production of three 20-minute operas, on January 16. This season there was no long work commissioned separately as in past years, a trend that will continue next season.


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